Lucie Burgers Stichting - Anti-predatory behavior beyond avoiding death: Influence of mobbing behavior in mate choice and reproductive success in Great tits (Parus major)

Project Details


Every animal species is a prey or a predator of another species. A predator-prey interaction have distinct possible outcomes, and have more dramatic consequences for the prey, given that it may result in death. Therefore, it is expected that the main function of anti-predatory behaviors is to avoid death. However, some anti-predatory behaviors are risky. This behavioral conondrum suggests that some anti-predatory behaviors have secondary functions. A recent study has suggested that risky behaviors, such as mobbing, can be used as honest signals by males to advertise their phenotypic quality to potential mates. Mobbing consists of a potential prey deliberately approaching and harassing a predator. If risky behaviors, like mobbing, can be used to convey an honest signal of phenotypic quality for males, it is expected that the expression of this behavior also results in fitness benefits for male mobbers. However, this hypothesis remains untested. This project aims to understand how the expression of mobbing is shaped by the presence of potential mates in the audience, and to investigate how this risky behavior can affect mate choice and reproductive fitness. I will conduct field experiments in a long-term wild population of great tits (Parus major) in Westerheide, Netherlands. Studies have shown that great tits can recognize their predators, and frequently mob them. Moreover, there is evidence of a male bias when great tits mob predators, which makes this species an ideal model for this project. The results of this project will provide the first empirical evidence of the fitness consequences of risky behaviors as costly signals, shedding new light on sexual selection theory. In addition this project highlight the role of male services in the evolution of cooperative risky behaviors, and stress parallels with the competitive altruism documented for some animal species, including modern men. Providing a novel paradigm for the study of the evolution of cooperative behaviors, and for the undesrtanding of predator-prey dynamics.
Effective start/end date01/02/201831/03/2020


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